Purple Loosestrife.

Botanical name: 

Purple Loosestrife. (Lythrum Salicaria.)

Also see Hool, 1918: Purple Loosestrife.

Purple Loosestrife, or Flowering Sally, is one of our common wild plants, beautiful and ornamental, and is found throughout Great Britain. It is a plant well-known to botanists, but not to many herb dealers, practising herbalists, and the general public. It possesses wonderful healing properties, the powers and virtues of which are but little understood except amongst the people of North, North-East, and West Lancashire, where it seems to be very well known and used.

I would it were also known in other parts of Great Britain, for it is not only a beautiful and ornamental wild plant, but is a medicinal plant of sterling value.

Now the questions, may very well be asked, "What is Purple Loosestrife? What is it like? How can we recognise it?" In answer to these queries I will give a brief description of this useful herb.

"Purple Loosestrife," or "Flowering Sally," has a woody root, throwing out fibres and branching at the crown, from which arise several acutely erect, smooth, or sometimes downy quadrangular or square stems of a reddish colour, stems simple, branching generally towards the top; leaves nearly sessile, lanceolate, acute, entire, two to five inches long, half to three-quarters of an inch broad, mostly opposite; sometimes in whorls of three or four, in which case the number of angles are also increased, the upper leaves becoming; diminished to sessile Bracteas. The stems are two to four feet high, the flowers are large, numerous, and showy, nearly sessile, in auxiliary whorls, six or eight in each, and of a variable crimson or purple colour, forming long leafy spikes of bright-coloured flowers. The calyx is a cylindrical and striated limb with six broad teeth and six alternate smaller subulate diverging ones; six of the teeth are long and reddish, and the corolla consists of six equal petals; the stamens number twelve, and the anthers are conspicuous red, with green or yellowish pollen; capsule small, elliptical, two-celled and many-seeded. This plant grows throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, most parts of Europe and America, and is found in wet and swampy places. It flowers from July to September, and gives out very little odour. The order to which it belongs is Lythracece, and is in the Linnean system, class eleven, called Dodecandria, order first, called Monogynia.

The number of principles it possesses are four, viz., resin, resinoid, tannin, and alkaloid; its properties are alterative, antispasmodic, diuretic, astringent, anti-febrifuge, tonic, and demulcent. It is employed chiefly in fevers and hepatic derangements, constipation, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera infantum, cholera morbus, malignant cholera, hemorrhages or bleedings of all kinds, leucorrhosa, old wounds, sores, clouded vision, etc., etc.

The whole plant is used either alone or combined with others of a palliative or soothing character. Purple Loosestrife may justly be considered one of the most valuable of all vegetable astringents yet known to man. In its action it differs from other astringents generally in promoting instead of suppressing the secretive powers of the mucous surfaces, and leaving them moist and invigorated. It is this action on the mucous surfaces that renders it a most valuable remedy in fevers, especially typhoid; and in hepatic derangements of the liver and biliary ducts, it will be found a valuable remedy either alone or combined with others. In constipation it is a most useful herb to remedy that condition, as, by its promoting the secretive powers of the mucous surfaces and its astringent quality strengthening the muscular parts of the intestinal walls, it gives tone and energy to them, and by that means tends to remove constipation. It is also a useful agent in relaxation of the bowels, because of its powers of correcting acid accumulations in the stomach and intestines. These statements with regard to its utility in the treament of the two opposite conditions—diarrhoea and constipation—may seem erroneous and inconsistent, but they are correct.

In Leucorrhcea and passive bleeding of all kinds it is most useful if combined with Bur-Marigold, White Pond Lily Root, Crushed Ginger, and Bayberry Bark. Used as a wash for eye affections or old and sluggish wounds, it will be found a most sterling remedy, as also in diarrhoea and dysentery; but it is in cholera infantum, cholera morbus, and malignant cholera that its greatest value as a remedial agent becomes manifest. When administered in small teacupful doses it exerts great influence upon all the mucous, secretory, vascular, and nervous systems, as well as on the liver, kidneys, bladder, and biliary ducts, and no matter whether a cholera patient be in the first, second, third, or fourth stage, Purple Loosestrife, or "Flowering Sally," will be found of the greatest value, for when administered just warm in all such cases its action seems to be almost electrical. From the moment it enters the stomach the irritation seems to be allayed, hepatic and biliary derangements corrected, and the mucous secretions restored to their normal conditions; the kidneys and bladder are strengthened, nervous excitement is abated, diaphoresis is promoted, and the skin, instead of being dry and clammy, becomes soft and moist. It also allays the spasmodic cramps common in such cases, and the patient is eventually brought to rest and sleep which leads on to certain recovery.

It was during the epidemic of 1848 that the sanative and healing influence of "Purple Loosestrife" was first made known by the inhabitants of North, North-East, and parts of West Lancashire, where it became the means of saving hundreds of people from death by cholera, and again in 1852-3 and 1864 and 1868 it was the means of preserving a good number from death through the same disease. I will give one case in point. In the middle of July, 1868, cholera was raging in Bolton. I was standing with a large quantity of freshly-gathered herbs—Purple Loosestrife in particular—in the Wholesale Market Place, which is now the Town Hall or Victoria Square, when a postman came and spoke to me. He said: "I want to ask you a question, but before doing so let me say that I have watched your career since you commenced to stand in this market-place, and I know that you bring in a different class of herbs to the others. I have also watched you go round to the others, and if you found they had anything out of the ordinary line you would buy it and place it among your others, but never attempt to sell it. I have also made enquiries of some of your friends, and they give you a good name, and say you know more than you pretend, so I have come to ask if you have anything good for eholera." I thought it was my turn to question, so I said: Why do you ask? You are not troubled with it!" " No!" he said, "but one of our men, a letter-sorter, is; he is in the office now, and so many men are off that the postmaster cannot spare any more, and this man is so bad that we have had to keep him in the office for over three days; if something different is not done for him he will die within the next few hours, as we have done all we could for him; but I thought I would see you "before giving up all hope. Now, have you anything?" I replied: "Yes! and if you use it according to my instructions I have no doubt but that it will cure him." I showed him the Purple Loosestrife, and told him it was fourpence per dozen bunches, but he only wanted about one pennyworth, and that I dare not sell him, as it was a wholesale market, and nothing less than one dozen bunches was allowed to be sold without making ourselves liable to a penalty of £2 and costs. But although there was a law to prevent me selling it, there was none to prevent me giving it; so I gave him a single bunch—about 3 ozs.—with instructions to cut it in pieces and crush 1 oz. of ginger, then boil the two together in 3 pints of water down to 3 half-pints, sieve, and give a small teacupful, just warm, about every half-hour until the patient felt himself easier. Being told that it was not poisonous, he naturally thought that if a teacupful would do good a pint would be better, and the man accordingly was given one full pint. It stayed down about ten minutes, then came back, and they thought it was of no use, and those around began to be afraid. But in 30 minutes he began to feel easier, and so divided the other half-pint into two equal parts and drank one of these, and then the other at half-past eight. At half-past ten in the forenoon the man was all right, and following his employment of letter-sorting as though cholera had never affected him. I had stood that morning; from 5 a.m. till 10-30 a.m., and only taken 3/6, but after hearing the statements of the letter-sorter and seeing him with an armful of Purple Loosestrife the people commenced to buy, and before 1 o'clock I had sold out entirely, as his was a most serious case and the effects of the remedy were wonderful. Hundreds of cases such as this could be given of the sanative influence of Purple Loosestrife over morbid and malignant disease. This plant will be found to be one of the best astringents in the whole range of Botanic Materia Medica, as it assists Nature to expel the material which is the direct cause of the excessive evacuations, and tones up the parts that have been weakened in consequence.

Purple Loosestrife is known in Staffordshire as Grass Polly. It is used as follows:—Take 3 oz. of fresh herb, 1 oz. crushed ginger, and put into pan with 3 pints of water, and boil down to 1 ½ pints. Sieve this, and take while warm one small teacupful about every half-hour until the patient feels easier—an indication that he or she is on the way to recovery.

For outward application to wounds and sores the parts affected should be bathed frequently with a decoction, and where necessary a poultice or wet cloths dipped in a strong decoction may be applied.

Common Plants and their Uses in Medicine was written by Richard Lawrence Hool, F.N.A.M.H., in 1922.